I wish I could take credit for the idea of being a potted plant, but I can't. I heard it a while back during an executive speaker series. A woman was talking about how she advanced through her company from being an admin to a director. She said whenever she had an opportunity to learn, even if it meant to learn something that had nothing to do with her current job, she made the time and just observed. Taking notes, taking in the facts, figures, and nuances of the conversation.
When you're a potted plant in a meeting, you don't have an angle and you aren't trying to persuade someone to something. All you have to do is listen. No participation necessary. You don't have to form a point-of-view. Just be present and consider the situation at hand from the point of view-of-all others.
This is also a great lesson in patience, empathy, and psychology. Watch for the interactions between the people in the room. What persuasion tactics work? What caused someone to lose interest or become more engaged? Did the structure of the meeting work? How did people present themselves and their beliefs, and were they effective.
The ability to be quiet and open-minded is an under-rated skill in today's work place, yet it's the people with that skill that will likely advanced faster within their organizations, or pick up on something that others miss and that becomes the seed for a new business idea. Information and insight is all around us, but it's tough to recognize if we're always pushing our own opinions out to the world. It takes patience, perseverance, and the ability to remain calm at the table, paying attention .